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The Rise of the Commercial Squatter – And What To Do About it

The Rise of the Commercial Squatter – And What To Do About it
The Rise of the Commercial Squatter – And What To Do About it

Please note: this article is for general information purposes and should not be considered an alternative to professional legal advice.

That Was Then, This Is Now

Squatters in non-residential properties have become a bit of a knotty problem.

Why, exactly?

Well, most probably, as well as challenging economic circumstances for many, it’s down to a legal loophole. Quite a large, deep one, in fact.

Let us explain.

Squatting, when someone deliberately enters a property and lives there or intends to live there, used to be a civil matter. It was often newsworthy. For many years, its legality simply baffled most law-abiding citizens, not least because of our “homes being our castles” and all that kind of thing.

Equally, it was a near-impossible problem to solve. You may recall media-wide, apocryphal nightmare scenarios of homeowners who, on returning from holiday, were greeted with various uninvited folks, wreaking havoc and living the life of Riley in their house or flat.

So-called “squatters’ rights” were most definitely an issue.

 

A Deficient Decree?

However, things have changed: squatting in residential properties has been illegal since the 2012 Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishing of Offenders Act (or LASPO). It’s now a criminal offence, punishable by up to six months in prison or a £5,000 fine.

Or, both.

The problem was that LASPO “forgot” to extend the law to commercial properties, or maybe we’re being ungenerous. Therefore, it seems likely that the would-be squatter has turned their attention to empty shops, factories, warehouses, and offices – where no such prosecution currently exists.

You can’t just remove them.

The police do not have similar powers to remove those unlawfully occupying commercial premises. They rarely respond to reports of squatters unless there is evidence of another crime, such as vandalism. Did you know that, as a landlord, it’s YOU who could be breaking the law if you seek to remove squatters forcibly – or threaten to? While it’s understandable to be angry, any aggression, intimidation or force will not be looked upon kindly.

When Can the Police Take Action?

So, just being in a non-residential property without permission is not illegal. But the following things are against the law:

  • Causing damage when entering the property or in the property
  • Not leaving when a court tells them to
  • Stealing from the property
  • Using utilities without permission
  • Fly-tipping
  • Not obeying a noise abatement notice

What Can YOU Do?

We’re not going to go into massive detail here, but you can either:

  • Apply for a Summary Possession Order
  • Apply for an Interim Possession Order

The former aims to remove any commercial squatters as an interim measure, pending a full legal hearing at a later date. We would strongly advise taking qualified legal advice for more information.

Stressful Situations

If you own or manage a commercial or industrial building, discovering that squatters have entered the premises with no immediate intention of leaving can be incredibly stressful.

They are likely to cause considerable damage, not only to the property’s structure, but they could also strip it of sellable material assets, such as wiring, cabling and fixtures. And then there’s the unbelievable mess, potential hazardous substances, the risk of arson, plus possible vandalism and fly-tipping.

Not to mention the far and wide siren call for illegal drug use and supply, with all the related paraphernalia left lying around.

There’s more.

We live in an age of social media, so apologies for bringing more bad news to your door, but some groups are savvy. They will use these platforms to advertise the fact that the property is vacant. The more squatters in a building, the longer their occupation, or so the argument goes. A sort of safety in-numbers concept.

Putting all of these horrors right could be extremely expensive.

Prevention: Better Than Cure

The law can vary for commercial properties, and you will be responsible for removing squatters or taking civil action. Equally, though, it may be hard to obtain police support to enforce an eviction notice.

Therefore, stopping this issue before it can even start is critical. In our experience, deterring your unfriendly local commercial squatter could be one of your best-ever decisions.

If security is down to you, there are a number of measures you can take. Your best course of action will depend on the type of property, its location, size and layout. Also, how long a gap there will be between commercial tenancies. Remember, an unoccupied building becomes increasingly vulnerable as time goes on.

Talk to Clearway about a full risk assessment to establish where the weak points are and how to Fort-Knox your asset as much as possible.

Practicalities

Ensuring the building is super-secure (see below) should be your priority. As a well-established vacant commercial property business, Clearway provides a range of highly effective products and specialist services to UK-wide organisations.

We can help you lock down and discourage even the most determined intruders.

Isolate all the utilities, including gas, electricity and water. Not only does this reduce the risk of flooding, but not having access to heat, light, and water makes the property a much less enticing prospect.

Good lighting is essential. Squatters prefer to enter under cover of darkness and will not appreciate being in the spotlight. Also, timed lighting could give the impression of occupancy.

How does the outside of the property look? Overgrown driveway entrances, gardens, and a frontage that’s seen better days will be advertising its vacant status to all and sundry.

Don’t forget the skylights. They’re easy to forget about and equally easy to get through.

Let’s go further:

Temporary CCTV Surveillance

CCTV cameras deliver crystal-clear images and are masterful at monitoring land and property. With their high-up position, they are the all-seeing eye and can even pick up activity from a long distance. And, of course, they work 24/7.

The CCTV images can be viewed directly by the client or a nominated individual or organisation. The footage will be seen by trained staff at our 24/7 ARC (Alarm Receiving Centre), who will then be able to respond accordingly.

Mobile CCTV towers are easy to maintain, too – with extra-long-life batteries.

Clearway inView solar CCTV

Security Screens and Doors

Will your premises be unoccupied for more than a week or so?

Steel screens offer truly exceptional protection.

We fit heavy-duty steel screens with an internal framing system, so they cause little or no damage to the window or door frame. Notably, while they allow ventilation and airflow (which reduces mould or other deterioration), they are impossible to remove, crow-bar or get through.

Steel doors are another excellent choice: imposing, impenetrable doors which can also have a keyless security code entry system. Only those with authorised access – property managers, security guards, or contractors – may enter.

steel security doors and screens

Wireless Vacant Property Alarm Systems

Contemporary alarm technology delivers a powerful punch, not least because it resolves the problem of an electricity supply. Clearway’s alarms are wireless, powered by solid, long-lasting batteries and connected to a mobile network alarm system.

They’re quick to install and work brilliantly at land perimeters or other further afield locations. These products are tamper-proof and weather-proof, too.

Innovation meets functionality here: when activated, it emits a loud noise and takes a series of still images. Then, it strings them together to create a ten-second clip of the disturbance. The alarm then sends the joined-up video to our ARC Monitoring Centre for further action if required.

What Else Can You Do?

You may wish to consider security guards, with or without dogs. These highly trained individuals can patrol and monitor your premises to your needs and specifications.

In addition, Clearway endorses regular property inspections; the qualified property specialists we work with know what to look for and will spot signs of intrusion or any other illegal activity at 50 paces. They can also remove rubbish and post from doorways and entrances.

Clearway Property Inspections

Final Thoughts from Clearway

Squatters can be really difficult to deal with and could trail financial problems in their wake. Your financial problems, that is: insurance renewal premiums, lost rental income, property damage, and of course – steep legal costs.

Likewise, squatters can impact the wider community.

Nevertheless, we recognise that many of those who occupy empty buildings are, and it’s no exaggeration to say this – extremely vulnerable. Addiction may be controlling their lives, or they’ve found themselves outside standard social norms.

At some future date, the legislation surrounding this issue may change. Until then, effective management, careful monitoring and proactive deterrence could make all the difference.

Let Clearway help you take the initiative for the peace of mind you need.

Gideon Reichental

Vacant Property Security Consultant

Gideon is an experienced property specialist with a commitment to excellent customer service and support. With over eight years dedicated to the niche field of vacant property security and services, Gideon has been at the forefront of developing and implementing best practices and successful strategies for safeguarding vulnerable properties, demonstrating a profound understanding of the complexities involved. His hands-on experience includes managing portfolios of over 200 vacant properties directly, alongside senior management roles overseeing broader portfolios that encompass more than 2000 properties.

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